Friday, January 11, 2013

Author Evan S Connell, Custer and his connection to Sand Creek

Evan S. Connell passed away yesterday in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the age of 88. He was a wonderful and eclectic writer perhaps best known for his novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969). The two novels were the basis for the 1990 film, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

But I will always remember him for his 1984 book, Son of the Morning Star: Custer. It was a not very flattering look at the vainglorious boy-General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

In the late 1980s I was touring a one-man show about Frederick Benteen, who served in the 7th Cavalry and was at Little Bighorn. Custer had split his regiment into three battalions, one commanded by Major Marcus Reno, one by Captain Benteen and the third Custer took with him to attack the Sioux and Cheyenne encampment along the Little Bighorn River. It was only Custer's command that was annihilated. Benteen went on to have a long career in the Army.

Connell's book was very useful to me as I put together the material I used in my portrayal of Benteen. Thinking about the book, now, I may go back and re-read it. It really was quite good.

Something else of note comes to mind about the boy General.

Many are familiar with the Sand Creek Massacre in which some 700 hundred members of the Colorado Territorial Militia under the command of Colonel John Chivington attacked Black Kettle's encampment along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado on November 29, 1864. It is estimated that 163 Cheyenne and Arapaho were killed – almost all women and children. Black Kettle survived.

However four years later, almost to the day, George Armstrong Custer led an attack by the 7th Cavalry on Black Kettle's village, this time on the Washita River in what is now western Oklahoma. This time Black Kettle did not survive, he and his wife Medicine Woman were shot in the back and killed. Estimates vary as to the number of Native Americans actually killed but all estimates agree that a number of women and children were included in the dead.

Eight years later, Custer himself would be killed at Little Bighorn. One of the principal Sioux Chiefs at the battle was Sitting Bull. He would later join Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. As I wrote earlier, there is a wonderful Museum devoted to Cody on Lookout Mountain west of Denver, it is also the site of his grave. Included in the museum is a lot of material, photographs and artifacts about Sitting Bull.

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